Nico Rosberg has held his nerve to claim his maiden Formula 1 World Championship title by finishing second to teammate Lewis Hamilton in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Coming into the race with a 12-point advantage over his Mercedes rival, the German simply needed to secure a podium finish – irrespective of where Hamilton finished – to secure the Drivers’ Championship title and deny the Englishman a fourth career crown of his own.
The title fight was Rosberg’s to lose, rather than Hamilton’s to win, and the twilight race was going to be all about playing the percentages and mitigating the risks. For Hamilton to win, he needed another driver, or drivers, to play an interfering role by getting ahead of Rosberg.
Having been warned in no uncertain terms by Mercedes management that they would modify Rosberg’s pit strategy if he opted to try and slow the pace to box Rosberg in during the early stages of the race, Hamilton played his final hand towards the 55-lap event’s final stanza.
Leading from pole position at the start, Hamilton kept a small margin in hand over Rosberg and a fast-starting Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari through the opening laps, with the Finn having jumped Daniel Ricciardo off the line.
Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen had a dramatic spin on the opening lap exiting Turn 1 after minor contact with Nico Hülkenberg’s Force India. This sent the Dutchman to the back of the field and proved to be the trigger for a daring strategy call by Red Bull Racing that was the catalyst for a thrilling finish.
As the main drivers pitted for the first of two stops early on, Verstappen stayed out to regain lost track position and eventually managed to split Hamilton and Rosberg after the Silver Arrows cycled through the pits.
That wasn’t going to be enough for Hamilton, and after Rosberg managed to force his way by with a brave lunge at the end of the back straight, the German was back in the pound seats.
Verstappen soon peeled into the pits and made what would be his only pit stop, a smart call from Red Bull Racing to potentially move him into a spoiling role when the frontrunners made their second pit stops.
Hamilton and Rosberg continued to run in close proximity up to and after their final pit stops, with the pair emerging behind Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari, which was running a long contrary-strategy second stint.
The four-time World Champion eventually pitted and bolted on a set of Super Soft tyres that helped propel him back into third place in a matter of laps, allowing him to rapidly close down on Hamilton and Rosberg in the final stages.
Hamilton had now deliberately slowed his pace to try and back his rival into the chasing Vettel and Verstappen; if both drivers were to get ahead then it would be game over for Rosberg as far as the championship was concerned.
The tactic failed to pay off, as Rosberg managed to soak up the immense pressure and brinkmanship to guide his car him in second place.
Verstappen finished an excellent fourth in the circumstances ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, while Räikkönen was sixth having lost ground to the Australian undercut him by making an early second pit stop.
The Force India duo of Hülkenberg and teammate Sergio Pérez were seventh and eighth respectively, securing the team an outstanding fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Williams, which lost any slim hopes of wrestling the place back when Valtteri Bottas retired early on.
The Finn’s teammate Felipe Massa overtook former teammate Fernando Alonso in the latter stages of the race to beat the McLaren driver to ninth place and close out his illustrious career with a points’ finish.
The same could not be said for fellow retiree Jenson Button, who failed to finish after breaking his front-right suspension when he clobbered a kerb at Turn 10.
Also joining the British driver on the list of non-finishers was Renault’s Kevin Magnussen and the Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat.
Image via Sky Sports F1